Annual Prize Giving – 2015
Excerpts of speech by the Chief Guest
“Whatever field of study you choose, aspire to be a leader in that field”
A prize giving is an important event for students, who are the future leaders of our country. The senior students will soon be leaving school to pursue higher education and eventually take up professions of their choice. Today there are many fields of study available to each and every student, ranging from medicine, engineering, law, accountancy, marketing, banking, business studies, information technology etc. not forgetting politics which is at present the most lucrative of all in Sri Lanka and needs no education.
Whatever field of study you choose, you need to aspire to be a leader in that field. However, this is not an easy task. It will take many years. Needless to say you need to have a mission and a vision, be dedicated, devoted, hard working and disciplined. All these are qualities that are inculcated during your school career.
“Have a mission and a vision, be dedicated, devoted, hard working and disciplined”
Many have been the experiences and the challenges I faced from my student days at St Josephs College Colombo, to the days at the Faculty of Medicine, Colombo, and early days as a doctor, specializing in surgery, working as a surgeon in rural Sri Lanka and finally reaching my goal to be appointed a surgeon in a prestigious hospital in my country. Through my story, I hope to inspire you, my dear boys, to strive to reach even greater heights than what I have achieved, thereby bringing honour and glory not only to St Josephs College, but also to Sri Lanka.
“Knowledge and Virtue”
The motto of our alma mater is ‘Knowledge and Virtue’ and I can say without hesitation that all students of St Josephs College (Josephians) imbibed the sublime aspects of knowledge and virtue due to the presence of a stellar line-up of priests and teachers. The sterling qualities of character, leadership, courage, honesty, dignity, magnanimity and above all concern for others especially the needy and less fortunate, were inculcated in us Josephians by the singular commitment and dedication of these priests and teachers. I am ever grateful to all of them. With all sincerity, I say that to this day I have tried to walk humbly and walk straight with grit and determination due to the guidelines my alma mater set out for me in those early days. What I am today, I can truly be proud of, is mainly due to the upbringing at home and education at St. Joseph’s College.
Students should have an ambition and work towards it diligently. You may fail initially, but do not give up because failures are the pillars of success! I learnt the value of discipline from the Rector at that time, Fr. W.L.A. Don Peter, after being punished by him for cutting class. That was bitter!
“Sports is an integral part of education”
Sporting activities are an integral part of education. The Latin saying ‘Mens Sana in Corpore Sano’ means a healthy mind in a healthy body. This clearly shows that physical development makes a vital contribution to intellectual development. Hence, adequate and proportional emphasis should be given to both, in terms of full education while including spiritual development as one of the core features as well. While participation is more important, the winner reaches newer heights and the others who take part develop a strong character. Sports builds leadership qualities and every student should be a part of this process and find the time for sports.
Admission to the Medical College those days was only on merit, based on the Advanced Level results. There were no district quotas or Z-scores and there was no delay in admission after the results were released.
In the days gone-by admission to medical college was on merit and merit alone
Soon after I passed out of Medical College, my initial appointment was at the General Hospital, Colombo, now known as the National Hospital, training under senior Consultants working there. These Consultants taught me the value of compassion, concern and care when dealing with the sick.
During my early days as a doctor I learnt the value of compassion, concern and care when dealing with the sick
Work was hard, but exciting and interesting. There were no duty hours and I had to be available day and night for emergencies, without any extra payment. I was living on a salary of Rs. 650 per month after five years of medical education. I did not complain but carried on regardless.
I qualified in England as a surgeon and after three years there, returned to Sri Lanka to serve my country. I was appointed Consultant Surgeon, Base Hospital, Polonnaruwa, in 1982. My journey as a Surgeon in Sri Lanka began then, at 32, quite young to be a specialist.
After qualifying as a surgeon in England I returned to serve my country
Thereafter, I worked under different and sometimes difficult conditions in various parts of the country including the Northern and Eastern areas that were affected by a terrorist war for three decades. My career has taken me through much adventure, both inside and outside hospital. It has given me ample opportunities to demonstrate the need for compassion, care and concern for human life. These are some basic qualities learnt at home and in school.
When I qualified as a doctor and then specialized to be a general surgeon, I never imagined how my life would turn out to be. Of one thing, however, I was sure……..that the people and their welfare would always be uppermost in my mind. My life as a surgeon has been laced with joys and sorrows, challenges and pitfalls, anxieties and concerns, successes and failures. Needless to say it was stressful at times and these are unavoidable in a doctor’s life. If this makes us hesitate to try again, we are condemning ourselves to a life of regret. All the cases that I encountered everyday were nothing but a little educative, nothing but the first step to something better. It was the beginning of wisdom, a wisdom born out of life’s experiences, which can never be found in books.
People and their welfare was always uppermost in my mind especially when treating the poor, the marginalised and the helpless
Many were the situations that I found myself in, which I had never dreamt of facing as a doctor. I have responded to these challenges with faith, persistence and courage. Such experiences came to me in the most unexpected of circumstances not in the great halls of learning but in the remote parts of the island serving especially the poor, the marginalized and the helpless.
As a young surgeon at the Base Hospital, Polonnaruwa, the medieval capital of Ceylon, I had a memorable and exciting time and faced many challenges.
“A challenge awaits us with a new day breaking, run swiftly it’s yours for the taking”
Although there were many deficiencies at the hospital, the work went on, with operations being carried out every day. I continued to work at Polonnaruwa for 6½ years in spite of the difficulties, as I considered it an opportunity given by God to serve the poor, the helpless and the marginalized members of society, most of whom were farmers. Grumbling and complaining would not have helped and would have only affected the poor patients. If there is a will, there is certainly a way to overcome problems!
My life as a surgeon was multifaceted. There were times I had to embark on heroic and innovative procedures to save lives and also “go the extra mile’’ for the sake of my patients. There were occasions when I had to take risks and bold decisions when there was no alternative. A golden principle of leadership is the ability to take risks. The result could very well be either success or failure. It is prudence and courage that will count in such circumstances. These are some of my experiences and challenges that I had to overcome in the course of my duty.
For me, surgery has been more than a profession. I consider it a vocation, a calling from God to save the lives of the suffering masses. It is not only a talent but also a virtue that has been gifted by God to be shared and made use of, to save lives.
“For me surgery has been more than a profession, a vocation, a calling from God to serve the sick and save their lives”
God’s blessings have helped me go through all these years with courage and determination in my chosen profession field as a doctor and a surgeon. I consider my work as the work of human hands, created, guided and protected by God Almighty. Likewise, you students must also have a mission and a vision and work towards that professional goal while helping those in need in whatever way you can irrespective of your profession.
Awarding prizes to the students
Dear Reader, If you haven’t read my earlier story, you can read by clicking this following link : “A DESIRE FULFILLED: VISIT TO JAFFNA ON A9 DURING THE CEASEFIRE’
You also might be interested in watching some of our other photo gallery links are given here : ‘WAR FRONT – 1’ – ‘WAR FRONT – 2’ / ‘PHOTO GALLERY – PICTORIAL JOURNEY OF SURGERY’ / ‘MY LIFE’ / ‘SPORTS’